Ahead of Dubai, Rita Ora speaks her mind
Be careful what you wish for.
From a Notting Hill council estate to Jay-Z’s plush NYC offices and a contemporary London pad, Rita Ora has been catapulted to the dizzy heights of fame.
It’s the life Ora’s been dreaming of for as long as she can remember, but it doesn’t come without a catch.
While she was a teenage student at the Sylvia Young Theatre School, a production deal at 14 came to nothing and much to her mother’s disapproval, the underage singer set her sights on key London bars to sing for the punters.
Aged just 11, she was the girl who sang “Killing Me Softly” into a UK counsellor’s camera phone after he “swore he knew somebody who knew somebody in the industry or whatever,” she recalls.
It was a slow ride which suddenly picked up incredible speed.
“It all feels so surreal now,” says the Jay-Z protégé looking back. “It’s been a short amount of time but I have a No 1 album, three No 1 singles. I just couldn’t have dreamed it any better,” she tells tabloid!.
Just seven years ago, Ora was paying bar owners to allow her to perform what she now prefers to call “impromptu demos”. She’d travel across London until someone gave in. “At some of them, I’d have to pay to sing because I was underage. That’s the Albanian side of me, hustling,” said the 22-year-old.
Born in Pristina — what was then Yugoslavia but now in Kosovo, the world’s newest country — in 1990, Ora is proud of her Albanian roots, describing the people as “very passionate and strong”. The president has already invited the Oras to dinner to toast her success, she recently revealed. “I love going back there,” she says. “I am very proud of where I am from.”
Ora’s psychiatrist mother and restaurateur father fled to London when their now superstar daughter was just a baby, forced to start from scratch.
“I grew up in a very multicultural and multi-economical neighbourhood,” she says, always managing to find a positive spin. “You had Annie Lennox living up the road and Robbie Williams down the street. I had a friend with 11 brothers and sisters all in one house.”
Sharing a room with her sister Elena, now her tour manager, Ora spent much of her time singing in the bathroom in front of the mirror.
“I’d close the door and write songs because my sister used to want to sleep,” she says.
Just as she comes across in many of her stage shows, music videos and music releases, Ora exudes positive energy. A council estate doesn’t translate as rough but as “inspiring”. “That’s the beauty of London,” she says reading my mind. “There’s so much to do and be. It’s rich and it’s always very inspiring going back to my neighbourhood.”
A mere decade later and Ora is jetting all over the world. She’s in Dubai at Sandance on Nasimi Beach, Atlantis, The Palm on New Year’s Eve. From collaborating with Drake, taking advice from Jay-Z and Beyonce to touring with a little band called Coldplay, the RIP singer has it wrapped.
Or does she?
Amazingly or annoyingly — depending on which side of the fame fence you’re perched — Ora may have made more headlines after a break-up with reality family lad Rob Kardashian than for her string of number one hits.
Following reports earlier this month the couple had called time on their romance, blaming hectic work schedules for their split, Kardashian took to a social networking site to rant about his ex, although never directly naming her and later deleting the threads.
He accused her of cheating on him with up to “20 dudes”, a claim which this week was allegedly confirmed by US Weekly.
The celeb magazine claims Ora hooked up with actor Jonah Hill, while still dating Kardashian, after they met at a nightclub when she was visiting New York.
A source said: “Rita spent the night with Jonah during a trip to New York. Then Jonah bragged about it to friends, Rob found out and Rita confessed! That was the last straw.”
Things got particularly nasty with the Kardashian brother at one point writing: “How can a woman who is so busy trying to start her own career have time to be with so many dudes all while in a relationship?!”
The ‘How We Do (Party)’ singer spoke about their relationship during an interview with the January 2013 issue of Glamour magazine, before Kardashian’s apparent Twitter rant about their break-up.
She told the publication: “I’m not going out with Rob. We were close for a while, but it didn’t work because I was never there. I was like a ghost. I used to get so frustrated with myself and then wonder why I was angry, so I decided it was best to keep [our relationship] friendly — especially at the moment, when there’s so much going on.”
Kardashian has since denied his tweets were about the ‘Hot Right Now’ hitmaker.
Funnily enough, Kardashian is not someone Ora wants to chat about and rightly so.
Music is priority
“Life is about my music,” she says.
Ahead of her Dubai show, the singer and songwriter says her best ever New Year party was in Dubai in 2010 with friends.
“I love Dubai,” she says. “A few of my very good friends are from here, so I have been before and it’s a lot of fun. The people are so warm and welcoming, the food is amazing. There is so much culture and a lot to do.”
As she recounts being scouted by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation at 16, there is still an endearing touch of London schoolgirl about her. She had sent Facebook pictures and a demo and had crossed her fingers.
“I was over the moon,” she says about receiving the call to fly to New York. “I told them it would take me a while to save up for the flight because I worked in a trainer shop and they just laughed at me. I was being serious. I was nervous. I put my best trainers on and went on my own. I was only 16.”
Two years ago, at his request, she relocated to New York to become a member of the “Roc Nation family” and started her career transatlantic.
“The best piece of advice Jay-Z ever gave me was to be patient and don’t rush your music,” she says. Which works for Ora who says her musical processes usually means making a start before “letting the songs evolve and grow.”
At 11, Ora looked up to people like her now “big sister” and “mentor” Beyonce. Often compared to singers, including Rihanna and Lady Gaga, you’d think Ora had proved herself enough. But as always, she isn’t frustrated by the life and career she wished for herself.
“Sometimes it can get to me,” she says before changing her mind and showcasing yet more of the positive. “But I let my story and voice speak for itself.”